The kalam cosmological argument (KCA) for God’s existence goes as follows:

(1) Anything that begins to exist requires a cause
(2) The universe began to exist
(3) Thus, the universe requires a cause

With some additional philosophical reasoning, the cause of the universe is ultimately identified as God.  Some seek to undermine this causal argument for God’s existence by defining causality as a wholly physical principle limited to physical reality, rather than a metaphysical principle with broad application to both physical and non-physical reality.  If this assessment is correct, then the causal principle does not apply to the question of cosmic origins because it came into being concomitantly with the universe, thereby exempting the origin of the universe itself from its influence.  This would effectively undermine premise 1 of the KCA, because the universe would be an example of something that begins to exist, and yet does not require a cause.

But why think causality is a wholly physical principle?  I have yet to hear an argument to substantiate this claim that does not beg the question in favor of naturalism/atheism.  The most common argument is that causes necessarily precede their effects in time.  Since time began concomitantly with the universe, there was no time prior to the universe in which a cause could have occurred, and thus the universe must be an effect without a cause.  This begs the question in favor of naturalism/atheism, for only by assuming the truth of naturalism/atheism does it follow that causes necessarily precede their effects in time.  But it’s the truth of naturalism/atheism that the causal argument brings into question!  It is fallacious to argue the causal argument is meaningless because it posits a cause outside the spatio-temporal universe, when the causal argument itself is grounds for calling into question the naturalistic/atheistic assumption that causation is a wholly physical principle, limited to the spatio-temporal universe.

While temporal priority may be a common property of causation (particularly as we experience the causal principle in a temporal world), it is not a necessary property.  Causes can be prior to their effects in one of two ways: temporally, logically.  Even Immanuel Kant recognized this.  As an example of logical causal priority, he asks us to imagine a heavy ball resting on a cushion from eternity past.  The physical proximity of the ball and cushion forms a concave depression in the cushion that is coeternal with the ball and cushion.  What, then, is the cause of the concavity?  Neither the ball nor the cushion enjoys temporal priority over the other (the ball never began to rest on the cushion, and the cushion never existed apart from the ball’s resting on it), so there is no temporally prior cause.  If we adopt the naturalist’s assumptions, we should conclude it is uncaused.  But surely this is unreasonable!  As a contingent property, the concavity of the pillow begs for a causal explanation.  If the cause-effect relationship cannot be temporal in nature, then it must be logical in nature.  The ball is the logically prior to the pillow’s concavity (surely the concavity of the pillow does not cause the sphericity of the ball!), and thus is the cause of the concavity.  Likewise, as a contingent being, the universe demands a causal explanation.  That cause cannot be temporally prior to the universe, so it must be logically prior.  If there can be causal relations independent of temporality, then the naturalist’s objection to the KCA’s first premise fails.  Everything that begins to exist, including the universe, requires a cause.

Up to now I have granted the objector’s presupposition that causes precede their effects in time, but I think there are good reasons to believe that causes are concomitant with their effects.  If so, then the cause of the universe would be temporal after all, and the objection against premise 1 of the KCA fails.  William Lane Craig makes a good case for the temporal simultaneity of cause and effect:

Imagine C and E are the cause and the effect. If C were to vanish before the time at which E is produced, would E nevertheless come into being? Surely not! But if time is continuous, then no matter how close to E’s appearance C’s disappearance takes place, there will always be an interval of time between C’s disappearance and E’s appearance. But then why or how E came into being when it does seems utterly mysterious, for there is no cause at that moment to produce it.[1]

God’s causing the universe to come into being, then, may be simultaneous to the universe’s coming into being (effect).  If so, the temporal necessity objection against the KCA fails, and the conclusion stands: the universe requires a cause.

Even if all of my previous responses to the temporal necessity objection fail, we can know it is false because time itself does not cause anything even in the spatio-temporal world.  Time is not part of the causal equation.  While cause and effect occur within a temporal framework, time is not causing any effect.  Time is incidental to cause and effect, not essential to it.  If time is not part of the causal relationship, then there is no reason to reject the idea that the universe needs a cause on grounds that the cause would have to be outside of time.

[1]William Lane Craig, “Causation and Spacetime”; available from; Internet; accessed 17 Deceber 2010.